The Degrading Practice of Manual Scavenging is a blot on India's Human Rights
Updated: Mar 14
DATE- 18th June 2021
According to the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation
Act, 2013 a manual scavenger is a person engaged or employed for manually cleaning,
carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary
latrine or an open drain or pit. Some sections of caste-based individuals are even pushed into
manual scavenging after the decade of India's independence. The Scavengers are usually in
the lowest caste order, namely the Dalits or Shudras which carry out all kinds of unhealthy
acts that risk their lives by cleaning up blocked gutters to help society. The purpose of this
study is to carry out a complete study on scavengers, government regulations, the existing
situation, caste prejudice.
Keywords: Manual scavenging, Social discrimination. Caste-based differentiation,
I may not be born again and if it happens, I will like to be born in a family of scavengers so
that I may relieve them of the inhuman, unhealthy, and hateful practice of carrying head loads of night-soil.
- Mahatma Gandhi
Manual scavenging in India: A Historical background
Manual Scavenging is the term used to describe the method of manual removal of human
excreta from pit toilets by hand using a shovel. This method of human waste removal was
officially prohibited by law in the year 1993 as it had always been considered a caste-based
and dehumanizing practice.
The work of manual scavengers to purge a certain sort of dry latrine that requires manual
every day purging was denied in India in 1993. This law was expanded and clarified to
incorporate insanitary toilets, trench, and pits in 2013.
Manual Scavenging in Urban India
In today’s India scavengers and sweepers still carry out these services not only in small towns
but in big cities too Most of them are employed by local urban authorities for basic
sanitation of the sewers and roads. However, a significant chunk of people still works in this
occupation. Which means manual scavengers are still cleaning toilets by hand.
Caste and Class Struggles
According to the Hindu society, scavengers have been treated as untouchables even by other untouchable castes present. These people are from the lowest rung of society. The cleaning of dry toilets is mostly done by the woman of the community whereas the men are indulged in cleaning septic tanks and sewers.
As Caste and Gender Inequalities Combine-A woman faces twice the discrimination
In 2018, the European Commission-European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights
(ECID), supported by Association for Rural and Urban Needy (Center for Equal Center)
undertook a baseline survey to assess the status of women manually scaled in four states of
India as part of a project Strengthening the Rule of Law and advancing the rights and
freedom of manuals scalers in India.
The survey 2 findings show that manual scavenging and dry latrines in four states are
common. The safai karmacharis live in isolated and excluded colonies, facing persecution and oppression for three generations or more.
The survey statistics show that 92% of the women polled are involved as manual scavengers
and caste and patriarchy have and continue to play a major part in the maintenance of manual scavenging. The study revealed pervasive discrimination and even violence towards
The survey has found that
1) Manual scavenging and dry latrines are prevalent in the four states
2) There are significant gaps in the implementation of laws and policies for the liberation and
rehabilitation of women engaged in various forms of manual scavenging, particularly
cleaning of dry latrines
3) There is a lack of knowledge and awareness among safai karmacharis about their rights and entitlement.
4) Caste and patriarchy is actively used to condition and oppress the scheduled caste women
and men into manual scavenging
Measures to Eradicate Scavenging still are Insufficient
Manual scavenging was formally prohibited for the first time in the country in 1950 by the
Gobichettipalayam Municipality, which was chaired by G.S. LakshmanIyer. Eight years later,
the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958, was signed, stating that
the government needed to establish a national agency on an equal opportunity, as well as remove contradictory laws and practices.
The Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955, had been enacted to abolish the practice of
untouchability and social disabilities arising out of it against members of the scheduled
castes. This act was then amended in 1977 and is now known as the Protection of Civil
Rights Act, 1955. Significant changes were made under this amendment such as the practice
of untouchability was made both cognizable and non-compoundable offense and stricter
punishment was provided for the offenders.
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, came
into force on January 31, 1990. The Act stipulates sorts of crimes as atrocities, lays down
tougher sanctions for guilty individuals, and established special tribunals for prompt
judgment in such situations. The primary purpose of the Act will be to prevent the
commission of atrocities infringements against members of the castes and the planned tribes, to enable relief and rehabilitation to be provided for victims of such crimes and related problems.
In 1993, the Ministry of Urban Development under the Narasimha Rao government passed,
after six states requested the Central Government to develop a law, The Employment of
manual scavengers and the Construction of dry latrines (Prohibition Act). The1993
Prohibition Act punishes the use of manual scavengers and the building of dry latrines for up
to one year's imprisonment and/or an. 2000 fine in the construction of dry (non-flush)
latrines. During the 20 years, it was in force, no convictions were achieved under the law.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 was
with the objectives to eliminate unsanitary latrines, prohibit the employment of manual
scavengers, and the hazardous manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks, and maintain a
survey of manual scavengers and their rehabilitation. These all legislations are of no use as
this evil practice is still persistent in our nation.
Reasons for this Insufficiency
The existence of this practice cannot be put solely on the legislation. One of the main reasons that this practice persists today is the government's failure to ban individual families from illegally employing manual scavengers. People in villages hire the majority of manual scavengers to clean dry toilets 4 . Even though government statistics show that a considerable
majority of dry latrines are still prevalent, no measures have been taken up to stop this
Manual scavenger’s caste-designated occupation strengthens the social shame that they are
impure or “untouchable” and sustains far-reaching separation. We can conclude that indeed
after the existing laws and recently enacted law on manual scavenging, it is still predominant
within the nation. The Supreme Court of the nation has already made it crystal clear in
SafaiKaramcharisAndolan&Ors. Case (supra) that the state has to implement the act, if the
same is not done then one can approach the High Court of the respective state. But even the state has been a perpetrator by their negligence and apathy and in some cases directly
employing as manual scavengers. The normalization and internalization of caste-based
discrimination and patriarchal oppression by men and women from every caste and
community-led to deeply established manual scavenging. Sustained efforts to remove and
eliminate these structures will be required to dismantle this evil from our society.
1 “Commission Calls Manual Scavenging as One of the Worst Violations of Human Rights” (National Human Rights Commission India) &lt;https://nhrc.nic.in/press-release/commission-calls-manual-scavenging-one-worst-violations-human-rights&gt; accessed June 16, 2021
2 Status of Women Engaged in Manual Scavenging: Report based on a Baseline survey undertaken in 2018 in four states of India~ https://www.wateraidindia.in/sites/g/files/jkxoof336/files/status-of-women-engaged-in-manual-scavenging-report-based-on-a-baseline-survey-undertaken-in-2018-in-four-states-of-india.pdf
3 Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
4 Bhimasha J and Sedamkar CB, “ SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONDITIONS OF MANUAL SCAVENGERS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO GULBARGA DISTRICT OF KARNATAKA STATE” (2015) 4 Indian Streams Research Journal Written by Jivitesh Singh, Research Intern at Stambh Organization India
INSTITUTION- University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University
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